Blast tears apart 400 years of Italy's heritage: Sinister signs in Uffizi carnage

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The Independent Online
MICHELANGELO, in a pensive pose, looks down gravely on the shattered glass, the dust and the toiling firemen in the square between the two main wings of the Uffizi gallery. Here, amid some of the greatest beauty of Italian and European culture, barbaric forces have brought carnage and devastation in an attempt to halt Italy's democratic revolution and striving for a better civilisation.

All around his statue, the windows of the 16th-century building, once the administrative offices of the great Medici family, are shattered. In the west wing, in front of him, torn-off windows and pieces of ceiling hang down. Debris litters the floor.

Across the square a few yards along Via Lamberteschi and left down Via Dei Pulci - the Street of the Fleas - dust whirls, machines roar, men shout and sweat as orange-jacketed firemen work to clear the rubble of what used to be the houses, some ancient, others newer, immediately behind the Uffizi's west wing.

A huge crater yawns at the spot where around 1am a Fiat packed with explosives blew up. It destroyed much of the lovely old Accademia Dei Geor gofili, the world's oldest agricultural academy and home of valuable old archives. It killed a family of four - the building's caretaker, Angela Nencioni, her husband, Fabrizio, and their two daughters, Nadia aged eight and Caterina, nine months - and two neighbours.

The force of the bomb channelled upwards by the narrowness of the street tore down walls and ripped off roof-tiles. Flowers hang over crumbling window-sills, and cushions and bedsprings litter the street. 'We have lost everything,' says a pensioner, Ida Corvi, still shaking and bemused. She and her husband Gaetano, who was watching television at the time, were thrown several feet into the air, 'but at least we are still alive'.

In Piazza della Signoria, more glass lies around the crenellated Palazzo Vecchio, Florence's city hall and more still in other streets and by the River Arno round the corner. It was the worst damage and the worst shock to this beautiful Renaissance city since 1966, when the storm-swollen Arno river broke out and swamped it and many of its art works with mud, debris and oil.

If this is intimidation, as the Interior Minister, Nicola Mancino, says, or a 'strategy of tension' as other politicians suggest, that is not the immediate effect. Florentines and tourists kept by police and barricades out of sight of the devastation were curious but relaxed. In a hotel close to the scene no tourists had left and staff were working as normal. 'But we are afraid there may be cancellations if a psychosis sets in,' said a receptionist.

Who is behind the bomb is at present a matter for speculation. Mr Mancino, who links it with the Rome car bomb two weeks ago, believes it is the work of the Mafia. He has warned for some time that the Mafia has been preparing murderous attacks. Several, it seems, have been foiled. Mafia pentiti (supergrasses) - and the discovery of caches of powerful weapons - suggest that it has been planning some kind of war.

But there are other sinister forces still at large in Italy. The subversive P2 masonic network appears not to have been totally smashed, or maverick sections of the secret services could be at work. Any of these could be working to prevent the old political world being swept away.

(Photographs, graphics and map omitted)